The first thing to understand when considering how to help a loved one avoid a relapse is the bottom line. And, that bottom line is that you cannot be responsible for another person’s sobriety. A family can do their best, and still their loved one relapses. It is not the family’s fault. Having said that, however, there are things that can be done to help a loved one avoid relapse.
Become Educated About Relapse
Knowledge is power, as the old adage says. This holds true in many of life’s most complex challenges, especially when it comes to addiction, recovery and relapse. The first step in helping a loved one to avoid relapse is to learn everything you can about it. Here are some aspects of relapse that merit special attention:
- Understand the brain chemistry of addiction and the changes to brain function that are a result of substance abuse. This sort of mechanical knowledge of the brain can help in working to prevent a relapse by offering a deeper insight into the cognitive vulnerabilities that could make it a possibility. It can also help reduce the anger and frustration that family members may feel about a relapse if it occurs and aid them in dealing with it in a more productive fashion.
- Learn about the emotional and situational triggers that can contribute to relapse. Try to avoid making them a part of the atmosphere. Not all triggers can be avoided, especially emotional ones. After all, life does have its problems. Being aware of those types of unavoidable triggers can, however, offer a bit of a heads up, and provide the opportunity to offer a bit of additional support if need be.
- Understand the process of relapse, because it actually is a process. There are stages that the mind goes through, certain thought processes and feelings, that lead up to the actual point of relapse, when the substance is sought out and used. Knowing the cycle leading up to actual relapse offers the opportunity to interrupt it and possibly prevent the relapse from happening. Signs to look for include the sorts of emotional responses that were common when using, such as outbursts of anger, especially when out of proportion with the situation. Anxiety and depression could be signs of inner struggle, as could disruptions in sleep cycles and eating norms.
- If the loved one starts spending time with the old, using set of friends again, especially if they’ve been pretty much left behind during the recovery process, that could be a sign that relapse is close or perhaps already in progress.
Knowledge is essential, but it is important to be able to take that knowledge and translate it into practical action. Loved ones need to have a list of practical steps they can use to try to prevent relapse. Here are a few practical approaches that can make a difference:
- If the old friends are hanging around, interrupt the cycle by taking up your loved one’s time in pleasant and enjoyable ways. Go on outings together. Prepare nice meals. Participate in hobbies together, letting the balance of activities fall toward what the person in recovery enjoys, as the purpose is the engage that person in positive productive things, and doing things that the person in recovery enjoys is more likely to work. If the moment is right, gently have an honest conversation about the worries you have seeing those old friends coming around.
- Interrupt emotional triggers in a supportive way, perhaps using yourself as an example. For instance, in the case of a child/parent dispute, talk about how frustrated you feel when it happens to you and what you do to deal with that. Try to laugh. Compliment the positive and acknowledge the effort. Perhaps ask what do you think we should do next time, if the situation has been diffused enough.
- Be up front. State that you can see the individual struggling. Ask what is going on currently to cause this inner struggle and how you can help. Sometimes just listening and speaking out loud about the inner struggle can help the person to bring the relapse urge under control.
- Call in the reserves if need be. Start making recovery friends a part of the daily routine. Invite them over for dinner and consider setting up outings together. Perhaps you may want to discuss the situation honestly, saying you are seeking their support because you see signs of a potential relapse brewing. Directly encourage the person in recovery to use his support system, and make it easy and convenient for him to do so.
Remember, despite the most devoted efforts, sometimes a loved one does relapse. It is not your fault and you should never feel guilty, questioning whether you did enough. Sobriety is the responsibility of the person in recovery and all you can do is to do your best to support it.